Getting over your fear of photographing strangers

Nov 17, 2016

Carla Coulson

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Getting over your fear of photographing strangers

Nov 17, 2016

Carla Coulson

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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This is one of my favourite subjects. I love teaching in my workshops as most people feel awkward about approaching people on the streets to photograph them.

Through experience, trial and error, I have had the pleasure to understand the psychology of approaching perfect strangers to ask them for a pic and the wonderful joy we receive by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone.

When we go up to a person and ask them whether we can take a photo of them, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable situation and not many of us are comfortable with feeling vulnerable.

What do we risk? We risk someone saying ‘no’, laughing at us, getting angry with us or dismissing us. These emotions can be devastation. So often, to avoid these emotions, we see people in beautiful situations that we would love to photograph, but we don’t do anything about them.

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Know there is a chance of a ‘no’, but also know there is a big chance of a ‘yes’. Of all the nos I’ve had, I’ve had 10 times as many yeses.

Going out of our comfort zones draws attention to ourselves and many of us don’t want to be seen. We would prefer to take photos of sunsets and empty landscapes to avoid confronting ourselves with strong emotions or a possible no. We decide the risk isn’t worth it, but when we risk nothing, that’s what we end up with.

One of the greatest things to overcome when wanting to take photos with emotions and a human component is to let go.

Letting go of what ‘others may think’ is the first step towards having the courage to step out of your comfort zone.

Often, we are projecting our own thoughts on what the other person may be thinking and this blocks us from ever asking. So allow them the right to answer before we self-sabotage the situation with what we think they are going to say.

Most people feel like they are ‘taking’ when they ask a stranger to post for a photo, but I have learnt we are also ‘giving’, often a gift so rare we couldn’t even imagine it.

Here are some of the beautiful things that the strangers I have photographed have told me because I asked to take a photo of them.

  • Flattered that I asked
  • Happy – they can hardly believe someone wants a picture of them
  • Never had a photo of themselves before, so in a way you are creating history for them
  • No-one has ever noticed them before and I made them feel special
  • I made their day
  • I gave them chance to sell their story
  • They feel beautiful
  • I gave htem a chance to stop and chat or dance

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What does the photographer get out of it?

  • A great photo
  • Joy
  • Human connection
  • A surprise
  • A possible friend or sometimes life-long friend
  • Encouragement for the next time
  • Fun
  • Learning something about themselves

From years of putting myself in a vulnerable situation, I have learnt that 95% of the time, when I go out of my comfort zone I am rewarded not only with a beautiful pic, but with human connection. The greatest gift of all.

Being vulnerable is about living your life wholeheartedly, and when you live your life wholeheartedly, life rewards you and I feel like this has been one of the secrets to my happiness and success. I was willing to risk my vulnerability day in and day out.

Taking great emotional photos is about getting out of your head (right brain), your practical, analytical side and getting into your heart (left brain).

It’s about opening your heart, knowing your technical skills backwards so that you react just with your instinct, intuition and your heart when that moment arises. You no longer need to think. You just need to feel and click.

About the Author

Carla Coulson is a fashion and portrait photographer based in Paris, France. She has worked with magazines like Harpers Bazaar, Vogue Entertaining and Travel, Gourmet Traveller, Australian House and Garden and many more. You can find out more about Carla on her website, follow her work on Instagram and Facebook, or reach out to her through Twitter. This article was also published here, and shared with permission.

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2 responses to “Getting over your fear of photographing strangers”

  1. Balivernes Avatar
    Balivernes

    Very very nice advice and great observations. Thank you!

  2. Robin Avatar
    Robin

    Some useful thoughts, I alway’s ask if I can make a portrait of them, rather than use the word “take a photograph” and try and start a conversation first, talk about their great outfit, ask if they are local, give a compliment.